At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul was my introduction to the character of "Coffin Joe," much like it was Brazil's in 1964. He's an interesting anti-hero, someone who seems to possess some form of supernatural powers, yet denies that they exist. Actually, I don't know if eyes turning blood shot before performing amoral acts constitutes supernatural power, but it definitely signifies tapping into an intense hatred of superstition.
In this movie, his name is Ze do Caixao, and he's the town's gravedigger. He's tired of "all the boo-hoo" related to his career, though, and gorges on meat during Holy Friday, while watching an Easter procession pass. He has nothing but contempt for other people, unless they can help him reach his goal, which here is to ensure "continuity of the blood" by finding a woman to birth his child. His wife is infertile, so he quickly gets rid of her.
She's only the first in a string of victims who either cross him or get in his way. If you don't pay when you lose a hand at cards, Ze will break a bottle and cut off some of your fingers. If you warn him to leave the barmaid alone, he'll jump off the bar to tackle you, then proceed to whip you. If you're engaged to the woman he desires, he'll whack you on the head, then choke and drown you in the bathtub. (If you struggle by grabbing his face, he'll bite you.)
None of this is particularly gory; however, it's pretty graphic when he doesn't want the local doctor to see something he's not supposed to, takes two fingers with long, curled fingernails, and pokes out his eyes. Since that may be a bit painful, but probably won't kill him, he goes ahead and sets him on fire. This guy is so bad that he even repeatedly pummels the woman whom he's asking to carry his child. That's probably the hardest thing to witness in the whole movie.
At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul is as interesting a movie as Coffin Joe is a character. I mean, the movie is the character. The story is told from his point of view and there are no complications to the plot other than what I've already revealed above. It's hard to root for him and there's no character trying to end him, so you pretty much have to just observe without getting emotionally invested.
As odd as it sounds, it's incredibly entertaining to do that. He's not as broad or goofy as Freddy Krueger, but Coffin Joe is nevertheless humorous. He uses colorful, descriptive language, like when he tells a woman she has "the fangs of a snake, but the face of an angel." He also provides his twisted, unique perspective on events, like when he tells another woman, "I have the honor of seeing you die before my eyes."
He's also incredibly egotistical and delusional, claiming that other people don't like him because he's stronger than them. When forces of darkness finally rise to give him what he deserves, he goes on a dramatic rant. First, he shouts at them to take him straight to Hell, but then he challenges their power to do so. "I deny your existence!" Even when directly witnessing a parade of the dead, he says, "No, it can't be real."
Ze de Caixo aka Coffin Joe was created by and is played by Jose Mojica Marins, who wrote and directed At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. It was apparently shot inside a 600-square foot studio, and it shows. Its score by Salatiel Coelho and Herminio Gimenez is utilized only during key moments of mayhem, in case the visuals alone don't tell you how to react. There's no reason I should have liked it as much as I did, but I really did. I think it's because it's so unusual.
Written by Jose Mojica Marins, Magda Mei
Directed by Jose Mojica Marins
Starring Jose Mojica Marins, Magda Mei, Nivaldo Lima, Valeria Vasquez
Released November 9, 1964 (Brazil)
RT 84 min.
Home Video Synapse Films (DVD)